Have You Lost Your Mind?
Loving outside the Lines
Sermon by Teri Daily
“Have you lost your mind?!!” This is the question Jesus’ family is dying to ask him, if only they could get close enough. Ever since Jesus was baptized by John, he’s been going against all the norms. He not only colors outside the lines, he paints a whole community outside the lines. Jesus heals the sick, casts out demons, eats with tax collectors and sinners, and even touches those with leprosy. With his actions he proclaims a kingdom where all are welcome (including lepers and tax collectors), where healing is a way of life, where communities become family, where sins are forgiven, and where the God who is love reigns supreme—in short, he proclaims a kingdom where the impossible is possible.
That kind of faith—that kind of openness to the Spirit, that kind of love—risks upsetting every proverbial apple cart in his culture (and in ours!). After all, we know how things work; we know the script; we know our place in it; we know what is possible and impossible. To believe otherwise just sets us up for failure, for disappointment, and for hurt. It’s easier to set the boundaries firmly in place and say that anyone who imagines a world outside of them—much less works toward that new vision—is just plain crazy.
But maybe this is the sin against the Holy Spirit that can’t be forgiven. It can’t be forgiven not because God is hard-hearted, but because we are. We are the ones who close off the path that leads to our own transformation and to the transformation of the world; we close off the very path that leads to our salvation. Of course, we don’t call it blasphemy. We call it sanity—or at least we mistake it for that, just like Jesus’ family did in today’s gospel reading from Mark.
To blaspheme means “to speak irreverently about God or sacred things.” It is to deny God reverence or respect; it is to deny God’s power at work in the world making all things new; it is to deny that God can make possible the impossible; it is to deny that God, through us, can work miracles.
It’s understandable that we would come to believe in the impossibility of the kingdom of heaven. After all, we live in a world where the rhetoric is one of vengeance, not forgiveness and rehabilitation. We are fed a worldview of scarcity, one in which food and healthcare and education are said to be necessarily present for some and absent for others. We equate healing with physical cure and not with the deeper sense of peace. We live in a world in which freedom is defined as the freedom from the demands you might place on me and not as the freedom to create a new world together. We live in a world with violence and suffering, and it seems at times as if God is distantly removed from us. It’s easy to see how we would come to believe over time that this is just the way things are—the way they have to be.
But then each week we come to worship, and the liturgy tells us a different story. We gather, and we glimpse the power of community to overcome estrangement. We hear scripture—stories that speak of the way that things could be, but aren’t. We pray for one another, and we acknowledge that our well-being is inevitably linked to the well-being of others. We confess our sins, and we bear witness to the power of forgiveness. We pass the peace, and we imagine a world in which divisions are healed. We taste the bread and wine, and we know that God is present with us and in us. We follow the cross into the world, and we leave knowing that wherever we go the risen Christ is always already there, if we just have the eyes to recognize him. (1) It is a story of power, of hope, and of love. And some might call it just plain crazy.
Jim Wallis is the founder of Sojourners (both a magazine and a community), and a Christian advocate on issues of justice and peace. He tells this story of being present at a worship service in South Africa led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
The former South African archbishop Desmond Tutu used to famously say, “We are prisoners of hope.” Such a statement might be taken as merely rhetoric or even eccentric if you hadn’t seen Bishop Tutu stare down the notorious South African security police when they broke into the Cathedral of St. George’s during his sermon at an ecumenical service. I was there… The incident taught me more about the power of hope than any other moment in my life. Desmond Tutu stopped preaching and just looked at the intruders as they lined the walls of his cathedral, wielding writing pads and tape recorders to record whatever he said and thereby threatening him with consequences for any bold prophetic utterances. They had already arrested Tutu and other church leaders just a few weeks before and kept them in jail for a few days to make both a statement and a point: Religious leaders who take on leadership roles in the struggle against apartheid will be treated like any other opponents of the Pretoria regime.
After meeting their eyes with his in a steely gaze, [Tutu] acknowledged their power (“you are powerful, very powerful”) but reminded them that he served a higher power greater than their political authority (“But I serve a God who cannot be mocked!”). Then, in the most extraordinary challenge to political tyranny I have ever witnessed, Archbishop Desmond Tutu told the representatives of South African apartheid, “Since you have already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side!” He said it with a smile on his face and enticing warmth in his invitation, but with a clarity and boldness that took everyone’s breath away. The congregation’s response was electric. The crowd was literally transformed by the bishop’s challenge to power. From a cowering fear of the heavily armed security forces that surrounded the cathedral and greatly outnumbered the band of worshipers, we literally leaped to our feet, shouted the praises of God and began dancing… We danced out of the cathedral to meet the awaiting police and military forces of apartheid who hardly expected a confrontation with dancing worshipers. Not knowing what else to do, they backed up to provide the space for the people of faith to dance for freedom in the streets of South Africa. (2)
I tell this story because the South African security forces were bewildered when they saw the people filled with such vision and such hope. It didn’t make sense to them; perhaps they thought the people had lost their minds. And I can’t help but wonder, do people ever think that about us? I truly hope so.
We come here week after week to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, to open ourselves to God’s presence and God’s dream. We come bringing all of our fear, hurt, joy, suffering, fatigue, and hope—all of it—and we offer it up to God, asking God to transform it. We come here to be face-to-face with a different world, with the way things could be.
May God give us the courage and hope to live according to that world. May God afflict us with holy imaginings. May we leave this place dancing. And may those we meet say of us, “Have they lost their minds?”
1. I am grateful to the Rev. Dr. Don Saliers and his course Liturgy and Moral Imagination at Sewanee for the inspiration for much of this sermon.
2. Jim Wallis, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005) 348.